Saturday, March 2, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 362: Biden makes surprise visit to Kyiv, promises more military aid for Ukraine

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine on February 24 after the Western-leaning Kiev government turned a deaf ear to Moscow’s calls for its neighbor to maintain its neutrality. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

Zelensky says China backing Russia would cause a world war

President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned China against supporting Russia, saying doing so would bring about a world war.

“For us, it is important that China does not support the Russian Federation in this war. In fact, I would like it to be on our side,” Zelensky told the German newspaper Die Welt.

“At the moment, however, I don’t think it’s possible,” he added.

“But I do see an opportunity for China to make a pragmatic assessment of what is happening here … because if China allies itself with Russia, there will be a world war, and I do think that China is aware of that,” the president continued.

Biden received security guarantees before going to Kiev: Moscow

US President Joe Biden has received security guarantees before his trip to Ukraine, Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev said, without specifying who gave the American leader these guarantees.

“Biden, having previously received security guarantees, finally went to Kiev. He promised many weapons and swore allegiance to the neo-Nazi regime to the grave,” Medvedev wrote on his Telegram channel on Monday.

“And, of course, there were mutual incantations of victory, which will come with new weapons and courageous people,” he added.

Medvedev noted that Western countries are “quite faithfully” supplying Kiev with arms and money.

“In huge quantities, allowing the military-industrial complex of NATO countries to make money and steal weapons to sell to terrorists all over the world,” he specified.

Biden visited Kiev on Monday to meet with his Ukrainian counterpart Vladimir Zelensky and express support for Kiev.

The White House has announced that Washington had been in contact with Moscow shortly before Biden’s visit to Ukraine “to ensure deconfliction.”

Swedish Military Intelligence says threat from Russia has increased

Russia poses a clear military threat in Sweden’s immediate area but its forces are largely tied up in the war in Ukraine, the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST) said on Monday.

“The European Security Order as we know it has ceased to exist…and with that the risks for Swedish security have also increased,” Lena Hallin, head of MUST, told a news conference.

Hallin also stated she expected Russia to strengthen its military capability in Sweden’s immediate area when it was possible, in response to Sweden and Finland applying for NATO membership.

She added that MUST judged that Russia wants to avoid current tensions escalating into an armed conflict with NATO.

“But there is considerable uncertainty, mainly relating to the Russian leaderships’ willingness to take high risks,” she said, adding that the high level of tension raised risks that accident or misjudgment could lead to conflict.

Six Russian soldiers killed in bunker fire near Ukraine border: Report

Six Russian soldiers have been killed in a fire in a bunker in western Russia’s Kursk region, state media report, citing the Ministry of Defence.

The ministry said the fire was the result of a “gross violation” of safety rules, the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency reported.

The fire occurred near the village of Ulanok, fewer than 10km (six miles) from Ukraine’s northeastern border with Russia, the TASS news agency reported, citing emergency services.

Washington gave Moscow notice of Biden visit: White House

The US notified Russia of President Joe Biden’s trip to Kyiv hours before the visit took place, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan says.

“We did so some hours before his departure for deconfliction purposes, and because of the sensitive nature of those communications, I won’t get into how they responded or what the precise nature of our message was, but I can confirm that we provided that notice,” Sullivan stated.

He added that Biden wanted to send a “clear, unmistakable message” of enduring US support for Ukraine with his presence.

Jon Finer, a deputy national security adviser, noted the entire operation had been meticulously planned over months with the final decision on whether to go ahead with the visit taken on Friday.

Biden departs Kyiv after lightning visit

President Joe Biden has departed from Kyiv after making a surprise visit to the Ukrainian capital, according to reporters travelling with the US President.

Biden’s lightning visit marked his first trip to Ukraine since Russia launched its offensive on February 24 last year.

He had been scheduled to travel to Poland today.

Russia’s offensive has caused $51bn of environmental damage: Ukrainian minister

Ruslan Strilets, Ukraine’s environment minister, says Russia’s offensive in Ukraine has caused more than $51bn of environmental damage to date.

“From the first day of the war, we began to develop new methodologies which we use now to calculate all of the environmental damage,” Strilets told Al Jazeera from Kyiv.

“The figure of $51bn will only increase because every day we see new damage and new cases,” he added.

Strilets stated some of Ukraine’s natural environments had been “lost forever” as a result of the conflict.

“But any money, anytime, will help us to repair what Russia destroyed. We have burnt trees and a lot of pollutants in the air,” he continued.

Ukraine’s FM: Biden’s trip clearly signalled to Putin that “no one is afraid of you”

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said in a statement President Joe Biden’s trip to Kyiv clearly signalled to Vladimir Putin that “no one is afraid of you”.

“This visit is the victory of the Ukrainian people and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. It has been conducted in spite of everything for the sake of Ukraine’s victory and all the free world,” he added.

“It is a clear signal to the swamp – no one is afraid of you!” the diplomat stressed.

Zelensky says Biden’s visit leaves Ukraine “closer to victory”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated negotiations between his and US President Joe Biden’s teams in Kyiv were a major boost to his country.

“This conversation brings us closer to victory,” Zelensky said, speaking alongside Biden on Monday.

“The results of this visit will surely be seen, and will surely have repercussions on the battlefield in liberating our territories,” he added.

The Ukrainian leader also called Biden’s surprise visit the most important in the “history of the Ukraine-US relationship.”

“Ukrainians remember the focus, attention, the attitude that President Biden and the US have given to Ukraine,” Zelensky added.

“I thank you for this level of US-Ukraine cooperation,” he said.

Zelensky said he had discussed the supply of more advanced Western weapons to Ukraine, and cited the recent decision by the US to send Abrams tanks to the country as another defining moment.

“The decision of the US on Abrams tanks has already presented a foundation for establishing a tank coalition and is of historic importance,” he continued, adding, “We’ve also talked about long-range weapons and the weapons that may still be supplied to Ukraine – even though have not been supplied before.

Biden says Putin’s invasion plan has proved ‘plain wrong’

US President Joe Biden says his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin was “plain wrong” in his plan for the offensive in Ukraine.

“He was counting on us not sticking together. He was counting on an inability to keep NATO united and he was counting on us not to be able to bring in other on the side of Ukraine,” Biden stated at a news conference in Kyiv alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“He thought he could outlast us. I don’t think he’s thinking that right now,” he added.

“He has just been plain wrong. And one year later, the evidence is right here in this room, we stand here together,” the president noted.

Biden recalled the fears nearly a year ago that Russia’s invasion forces might quickly take the Ukrainian capital.

“One year later, Kyiv stands,” Biden stressed.

“Ukraine stands. Democracy stands. The Americans stand with you, and the world stands with you,” he continued.

He warned that the “brutal and unjust war” is far from won, and that there will be “very difficult days and weeks and years ahead”.

Zelensky: Talks with Biden ‘very fruitful’

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said his negotiations with his US counterpart, Joe Biden, were “very fruitful”.

The Ukrainian leader described Biden’s visit to Ukraine as “the most important visit of the whole history of US-Ukraine relations” which underlines “the results we have already achieved” and the “historic achievements we might gain together with the whole world”.

He thanked the US president personally as well as Congress and the American people, ahead of the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The result of this visit will “surely have a reflection on the battlefield”, Zelensky continued, adding that he and Biden discussed long-range weapons and the weapons “that may still be supplied to Ukraine”.

Biden had ‘security guarantee’ from Moscow: Former Putin spokesman

Sergei Markov, a Russian political scientist and former spokesman of President Vladimir Putin, claims that Moscow had guaranteed Biden’s safety during his trip to the Ukrainian capital.

“Joe Biden came to Kyiv only with a personal guarantee for security from Vladimir Putin, that there will be no rocket and aviation strikes … during the visit,” Markov told Al Jazeera.

He added that the timing of the trip was significant, as it comes before Putin is set to deliver a national address and ahead of the first anniversary of the invasion on Friday.

He argued that Biden had a lot to gain from the visit, in terms of domestic politics.

“Leaders inside the [US] Democratic Party believe he’s not physically and mentally able” to carry out presidential duties, Markov stated, adding that the trip was a “big victory” for Biden against his political opponents.

Biden pledges new $500m military aid package for Ukraine

The US will provide Ukraine with a new military aid package worth $500m, President Joe Biden has said.

Biden stated the package would be announced on Tuesday and that Washington would also provide more ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) in Ukraine’s possession.

Biden has arrived in Kyiv on a surprise visit, marking his first trip to Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion.

The US leader’s visit comes at a crucial moment in the war as Biden looks to keep allies unified in their support for Ukraine with the war expected to intensify in the coming months as both sides prepare for anticipated spring offensives.

US president arrives in Kyiv in surprise visit ahead of invasion anniversary

US President Joe Biden has arrived in Kyiv to meet Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Biden arrived in Kyiv following a hour’s long train ride from the border with Poland. He has been walking in Ukraine’s capital alongside Zelensky, and the pair visited St Michael’s monastery as an air raid warning sounded across the city.

Zelensky has posted an image to Telegram of him together with Biden in Kyiv, alongside the message “Joseph Biden, welcome to Kyiv! Your visit is an extremely important sign of support for all Ukrainians.”

Dutch intelligence agencies warn of Russian threat to offshore infrastructure

Intelligence agencies in the Netherlands have warned that Russia appears to be preparing for the disruption and sabotage of critical offshore infrastructure in the Dutch part of the North Sea.

“Dutch vital maritime infrastructure in the North Sea, such as internet cables, gas pipes and windmill farms, can be vulnerable for sabotage,” the Dutch military and general intelligence agencies AIVD and MIVD said in a joint report.

“Russia is secretly charting this infrastructure and is undertaking activities which indicate preparations for disruption and sabotage,” it added.

The agencies announced covert threats by Russia to water and energy supplies in the Netherlands were also conceivable.

There was no immediate response to the agencies’ claims from Russia.

Ukraine inflicting ‘significant’ losses on Russian forces: Zelensky

Ukraine’s military is inflicting “extraordinarily significant” losses on Russian forces near the town of Vuhledar in the eastern Donbas region, President Volodymyr Zelensky said

“The situation is very complicated … We are breaking down the invaders and inflicting extraordinarily significant losses on Russia,” the president stated in his nightly video address.

He referred to several towns in Donbas, where fighting has been focused for months, saying “the more losses Russia suffers there in Donbas – in Bakhmut, Vuhledar, Marinka, Kreminna – the faster we will be able to end this war with Ukraine’s victory”.

Ukraine’s first lady: To fight back, you need to have weapons

First Lady Olena Zelenska has said that Ukraine needs more weapons to fight back Russia’s invasion.

“To fight back, you need to have weapons. Otherwise, you can die. We also need help to restore human capital, infrastructure, houses, schools, kindergartens, because war is not only a front line, it is also an economic crisis and a humanitarian catastrophe,” Zelenska said.

In an interview with South Korean TV company Channel A, the first lady also warned that the war, which began about a year ago, can have a “spillover effect”.

“This is not a gladiatorial fight that can be watched from the stands. The battle can spill over to the ‘stands’ at any moment,” she added.

Zelenska emphasised that Ukraine strives to end the war.

“The war is always too long, even when it lasts one day,” she said, adding, “We are waiting for its end every day. But it also depends on the support of the world.”

Ukraine blames Russia for disruption to UN nuclear watchdog’s work in Zaporizhzhia

Ukraine’s foreign ministry issued a statement Sunday accusing Russia of interfering with the work of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is currently occupied by Russian forces.

The UN watchdog said earlier this month that it has been unable to rotate its team of experts present in the plant in southern Ukraine due to “increased military activity.”

Since September, teams of experts have spent about one month each at the plant, then swapped out with another group, the IAEA explained in a statement. In order to do so, they have to cross the front line into Ukrainian-controlled territory. The organization deemed that too dangerous this month, calling the area surrounding the plant “volatile” and a “combat zone.”

In Ukraine’s statement Sunday, the foreign ministry claimed that Russia continues to surround the plant with military equipment and servicemen. Ukraine accused Russia of violating the norms of international law and undermining nuclear and radiation safety at the plant.

“If Russia is not stopped, its criminal actions at the Ukrainian nuclear facility could lead to a catastrophe, the scale of which is yet to be known by Europe,” the foreign ministry added.

It called on Moscow authorities “to immediately unblock the rotation of IAEA experts and ensure their instant safe movement through the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine to the Zaporizhzhia NPP.”

More background: IAEA chief Rafael Grossi held talks with senior Russian officials in Moscow earlier this month. According to the IAEA, the talks were part of the lengthy efforts to “agree and implement a much-needed nuclear safety and security protection zone around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).”

Zaporizhzhia, with six reactors, is the largest nuclear power station in Europe. The area, and the nuclear complex, has been under Russian control since the beginning of the war. Grossi and other nuclear experts have been concerned about the threat of a nuclear accident amid shelling around the plant.

Grossi has assured Ukraine the IAEA will never recognize Russia as the owner of the Zaporizhzhia plant, according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. Grossi also pledged a continuous presence of the IAEA at all of Ukraine’s nuclear plants.

Macron ‘wasting his time’ in considering dialogue with Russia: Zelensky

Ukraine’s president has said his French counterpart is “wasting his time” after Emmanuel Macron suggested over the weekend that the war would have to be settled by negotiations.

Responding to Emmanuel Macron’s remarks, Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview that any such dialogue would be “useless”.

“In fact, Macron is wasting his time. I have come to the conclusion that we are not able to change the Russian attitude,” he told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

“It is up to them to choose or not to cooperate with the community of nations on the basis of mutual respect,” he added.

Polish PM: Biden visit “will reassure all Europe” of the US commitment to Ukraine

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he expects US President Joe Biden’s visit this week to signal “strong confirmation” of the countries’ shared goal of Russian defeat in Ukraine.

Biden “will reassure all Europe that the United States is with us in this fight for freedom and peace,” Morawiecki said in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” program Sunday.

“I expect that there will be very strong confirmation of our resilience and our joint efforts to defeat Russia in Ukraine,” Morawiecki added.

“Instead of saying, as some western European politicians say, that Russia cannot win this war and Ukraine cannot be defeated, we have to change the paradigm, and we have to say, ‘Ukraine must win and Russia must be defeated,'” the prime minister stated.

Biden is set to arrive in Warsaw on Tuesday for the two-day trip, timed around the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

The president will meet his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda on Tuesday to discuss Polish aid to Ukraine alongside the “important” logistical role Poland has played in getting aid to Ukraine, the White House announced Friday.

Ukraine is in critical need of ammunition: EU’s top diplomat

The European Union’s top diplomat warned Sunday that Ukraine’s available ammunition is critically low, and Europe needs to solve the shortage quickly.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that allies have been taking up too much time with decisions on battle tanks for Ukraine, while the ammunition situation grew dire.

“Don’t confuse the short-term objectives with the medium terms purposes. Short-term, very short-term, more ammunitions to Ukraine,” Borrell said, during a speech at the Munich Security Conference.

Borrell said the ammunition issue needed to be addressed in “a matter of weeks.”

“The Ukrainians have a lot of applause and not enough ammunitions. That’s the paradox. They need to get less applause and better supplied with arms,” Borrell said, of Kyiv’s global reception.

“The Ukrainians are fighting, paying the highest price with their lives, but this war happens on European soil, affects us and has a global impact around the world, which also affects our security,” he continued.

He added EU has been slow in providing military aid to Ukraine and that future deliveries cannot be done by joint procurements, which he argued are too time-consuming: “We have to use what we have, what the member states have.”

Ukraine is burning through ammunition faster than the US and NATO can produce it.
The US and its allies have already sent nearly $50 billion in aid and equipment to Ukraine’s military over the past year.

Yet NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg noted Monday that the “current rate of Ukraine’s ammunition expenditure is many times higher than our current rate of production,” which is putting “our defense industries under strain.”

Much of that strain is being shouldered by American defense contractors. Even as the US embarks on an historic effort to re-arm, there are questions about whether it’ll be enough. As Ukraine prepares for a much-anticipated spring offensive in the coming weeks, the US is still years away from reaching its expected level of increased weapons production.

Chechen leader aligned with Putin says he wants to create his own private military company similar to Wagner

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Sunday that he is “seriously” planning to create his own private military company (PMC), inspired by the Russian mercenary Wagner Group.

“Already now we can confidently say that the Wagner has proved its effectiveness in military terms and has drawn a line under the talk about the need for PMCs,” the Chechen leader said in a Telegram post.

Kadyrov already has a private army often referred to as Kadyrovtsy, who are fighting for Russia in Ukraine.

Kadyrov and Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin have been publicly critical of Russian commanders for military failures in Ukraine.

While the Wagner Group has played a key role in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, it has come at a steep cost to human life. The US government estimates Wagner has suffered more than 30,000 casualties, including roughly 9,000 fighters killed, during the conflict.

The group has relied heavily on convicts to fill out its ranks.

“That doesn’t show any signs of abating,” a US National Security Council spokesperson said Friday, though Prigozhin claimed last week that he will no longer recruit from prisons.

“They’re treating their recruits, largely convicts, as basically cannon fodder, throwing them into a literal meat grinder here, inhuman ways without a second thought,” added John Kirby, the NSC official.

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